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Jeff Bryan Davis
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Jeff Bryan Davis,
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This is a weird one... I haven't written many IMDb reviews but felt compelled to have a go for this one, which I suppose says something good about this movie (I wouldn't feel compelled by a generic YA sci-fi flick or cliché-driven rom-com).
The short version is that there are brief hints of something really interesting here, but for the most part, it's pretty flat.
The main problem, I think, is that the tour and podcast (the plot is Harmon going on tour cross-country to record episodes of his podcast, Harmontown) aren't what's interesting about Harmon. This guy 1) made the most expensive pilot in TV history which didn't get picked up but has a cult following 2) got fired from the Sarah Silverman Show for saying horrible things to her and 3) created a network sitcom, got fired from it and then re-hired back to it a year later. All of these things are really intriguing and would make pretty fascinating documentary material. Unfortunately, they're only touched on here for about 2-3 minutes each.
Instead this doc is all about his podcast. To the point where this film feels like more of a promotional advertisement for that rather than a straight-forward documentary. And considering Harmon and his production company produced and released this doc, there's probably a high degree of truth to that. The words "creative" and "genius" get thrown around a lot, and they really play up the gushing fans.
In fact, that's the other off-putting thing about this doc. The running theme here is that Harmon created a sitcom about "misfits" and now these "social outcasts" and "nerds" (the film's terms, used repeatedly throughout) are all brought together by Harmon. They just keep returning to this same point. Harmon often says it himself, directly to the camera. The film presents it all like this amazing, touching cultural phenomena where Harmon unites a generation and brings these people hope. They keep cutting to still shots of the fans' faces (who he even calls "Har-minions") as if this is really profound. It's really forced, and some heavy-handed piano cues laid over otherwise utterly unaffecting moments certainly don't help. Plus, if I were one of those fans, I think I'd find the portrayal insulting. Maybe they don't all see themselves as desperate weirdos in need of an idol, but functional adults who just thought his show would be funny?
The one other thing this film tries to force is the idea that the "real hero" of this documentary is the Dungeons and Dragons fan they have on tour with them. He's a 20-something guy who showed up ("out of his mom's basement") to one of their shows. He loved D&D so much, they brought him along on the tour so they could play; and his story is clearly meant to mirror the fans'; he's a social misfit outcast who comes to the show and is given hope and meaning. He's presented as the lovable darling of the film (he's the only person in this doc where we also see his home life, etc), but really you just want to cut away from this kid and get back to the star, Harmon, who's funny (when he's not incoherently drunk), tragic, and has the good stories.
And when they do get back to Harmon, there are interesting moments. Besides the missed opportunities mentioned above, there are scenes where he fights with his girlfriend (who would've made a much better "heart" of the film than that D&D guy), an inside glimpse of editing the podcast to remove the "shame-based" moments, or phone calls with network executives about script rewrites, all of which will make you sit up and pay attention again. More of that! But there's actually very little.
It's like Wild Man Blues. Remember that documentary about Woody Allen made in the 90s - but he would only consent to the documentary if it was exclusively about his music? So they never talk about his films or his fascinating career. They don't dare bring up his controversial relationships with Mia Farrow, her adopted daughter or the abuse charges against him. They just follow him around on his tour, filming him play clarinet with his buddies. The whole movie is this bizarre "elephant in the room" scenario where no one is allowed to discuss any of what everyone really cares about. ...Eventually, years later, a "real" documentary of Woody Allen and his works was released, and now Wild Man Blues is just an obscure little footnote (it's never even been released on DVD), strangled at birth by the subjects' controlling ego.
I think this film is a similar footnote. It's 90 minutes of "subscribe to my podcast; I'm king of the nerds!" and frustrating cutaways from the few real moments. Maybe ten years later, a production company that isn't owned by Harmon will come along and make a second film of the interesting stuff. Or not. I mean, I've seen a couple episodes of Community and his shelved pilot (the novelty of the premise is amusing at first but wears off long before it's over - can't imagine how he thought it could last for a whole series). This guy isn't on the level of Woody Allen. He is a watchable person, and I'd return for a film about his bouncing around LA, hired and fired from various TV shows, and how that effects his personal life. But I can't really recommend Harmontown unless you have the patience to sift through a lot of marketing propaganda for a few tiny morsels. I mean, I don't know - how did you feel about Wild Man Blues?
P.s. - All the big name stars you see on the poster, like Jack Black and Ben Stiller? They're all in this for about 30 seconds apiece. So if you're watching this for them, you're going to be disappointed.
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